Breen, Ladd differ on tax policy in Senate candidates' forum

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FALMOUTH — Property taxes and tax relief were areas of disagreement for the two state Senate District 25 candidates in a recent Town Hall forum.

Incumbent State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, and Republican challenger Charles “Bart” Ladd, also a Falmouth resident, took part in the forum last week. Democratic State Rep. Teresa Pierce of House District 44 and Heather Sanborn, the Democratic candidate in House District 43, were also at the Oct. 20 event.

Neither Kimberly Parker Diamond nor Jeffrey Langholtz, Republicans who are challenging Pierce and Sanborn, respectively, attended the event.

Senate District 25 includes Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gray, Long Island, Yarmouth and part of Westbrook. Election Day is Nov. 8.

Sponsored by the Falmouth Cumberland Community Chamber of Commerce, the forum was moderated by Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall. While never escalating beyond disagreement, both Breen and Ladd offered conflicting visions of how best to address increasing property taxes.

Ladd, a former state senator and representative in Georgia, has said he wants to institute legislation similar to a bill he sponsored in Georgia, called the Homestead Option Sales Tax, which provides a combination of property tax relief for homeowners and funding for capital projects through a 1 percent local sales tax.

Ladd has said the sales tax reduced property taxes for homeowners in his Georgia district by 40 percent, based on a calculation of the sales tax from one year divided by the homestead properties the following year. He said it was the result of working across the aisle and Democratic support.

“People are scared of being forced out of their homes,” said Ladd, who believes the program would have similar results in Cumberland County.

Breen said there have been efforts to allow local sales taxes to be levied by towns, but proposals have never passed in the legislature. Instead, she advocated for rebate and relief programs from the state, like the former Circuit Breaker program, which was repealed in 2013.

Breen recently introduced legislation that would provide a rebate to qualified homeowners and renters. She said the bill was targeted towards seniors with low incomes.

She also said Republicans have always opposed past attempts at local sales tax legislation.

In response, Ladd said since it is technically a tax increase, “of course” Republicans voted against local option sales tax. But he said his proposal is designed to cut taxes for residents, which he thinks will have support.

Ladd has said his program is different from the Maine Homestead Exemption, which gave residents who have owned their property for at least 12 months an exemption of $15,000 on the value. Ladd said the Homestead exemption wouldn’t do enough to keep the tax rate low. He said his HOST program does more to reduce the tax rate, as well as diversify the income stream.

“I’m very confident we’ll be able to cut homeowner property taxes here significantly within Cumberland County,” Ladd said.

Breen, meanwhile, spoke in favor of the Homestead Exemption, pointing out it rose from $10,000 to $15,000. She said the local option sales tax is “pretty much dead on arrival,” since it has never gained traction in the Legislature. She said the circuit breaker program she was reintroducing in the Senate is a better alternative.

The two also highlighted some of their endorsements, Breen citing former state Sens. Richard Woodbury and Gerald Davis, who have also held her seat, as well as the Maine chapter of the Sierra Club.

Ladd said he was endorsed by former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe and former Gov. John McKernan, both Falmouth Republicans.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

State Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, right, and Republican challenger Bart Ladd disagreed over ways to reduce property taxes at a recent candidate’s forum in Falmouth.

House District 44 Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, left, and Heather Sanborn of Portland, the Democratic candidate in House District 43, were without opponents at a recent candidate’s forum at Falmouth Town Hall.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.